Saturday 21 September 2019

You need a PhD to do the shopping these days!

God bless the days when all you had to worry about when shopping was whether the food had gone off

Sheena Lambert

I used to love the weekly shop. Not, perhaps, as much as I love clothes or shoe shopping, but grocery shopping came a close second for me.

I used to thrive on the short-term gratification that mysteriously goes hand-in-hand with exchanging money for shiny things in colourful packaging, without the inevitable guilt that comes with splashing out on a dress or heels you didn't need.

You never have to hide a bag of groceries in the back of the wardrobe.

Yes, the weekly grocery shop used to be my little dark pleasure, masquerading as a domestic chore.


But no more. Slowly, over the past few years, I've noticed the change. Now the weekly shop is a thing to be avoided, and if not delegated, dreaded.

It's the social responsibility of it all. The pressure to be a good global citizen. The guilt at every turn. It's such bloody hard work.

There's always been some pressure when it came to shopping for groceries.

As a child of the 1980s, I remember the Buy Irish campaigns. A simple enough concept for the average housewife to grasp, our mothers were guilted into choosing locally made tins of beans over ones imported from somewhere as exotic as England.

It was a successful campaign, I will always be a Tayto-over-Walkers kind of girl.

But patriotism was a soft target when it came to the Irish shopper. The first real test of our commitment to social consumerism in my lifetime was the decision to buy or to shun fruit grown in apartheid South Africa.

But even that was straightforward enough. Now every apple, every toilet roll, every packet of biscuits warrants a background check worthy of the worst suspected criminal before you can consider handing over money for it.

It's been a gradual change. In the 1990s the environment was suddenly everything, and we were encouraged to buy green goods with as little packaging as possible. I could handle that. Then came the 'in season' campaign, and I stopped buying force-grown raspberries in November.


Then we were all educated as to the ill-effects of air miles, and suddenly the green beans that were in season in Mauritius were no longer the all-round healthy option they seemed.

Now I baulk at buying anything that travelled from further away than Cork.

There are consequential choices to be made at every turn, in every aisle, on every shelf. Every can, jar and tin poses a question of your principles.

Now the coffee has to be fair-trade, the chicken free-range, the carrots organic. Or perhaps not, because the organic carrots only come in a sealed plastic bag. And they're from Argentina. And it's June.


But whatever about the fresh produce, it's the dairy section that really freaks me out. When you are shopping for a household that consumes 10 litres of milk a week, making the right dairy choices requires a degree in Agricultural Engineering, a Masters in Business Studies and a PhD in Political Science.

Milks fortified with vitamins might be better for your children, but are quickly rejected as too expensive. 'Bad mother' guilt right there.

Then anything north of the border gets rejected. I'm not even sure why. So we are down to two litre own-brand milk for €1, or the branded one for twice the price.

Anyone with a radio knows the farmers get screwed by big supermarket chains when it comes to own-brand dairy. What's a Mammy with an ever-decreasing budget to do?

Does anyone remember the days when all you had to worry about was whether the stuff was gone off or not?

And now, on top of all the guilt-laden decisions made on the shop floor, there is the choice in the shops themselves. For a long time, I just ignored Lidl and Aldi. They were somewhat of an enigma to me, useful for not very useful things like cheap scuba gear and kiwi-peelers.

But talk in the school yard soon gained critical mass. I needed to know for myself if there was truth to the rumour that it really was impossible to spend more than €80 in one visit there. Now a whole other world of choice and guilt has opened up to me.

At least the recession has narrowed my choices a little. To do all my food shopping in Superquinn nowadays would be akin to buying toothpaste in Harvey Nicks. And my gentle republican leanings have always manifested themselves in an irrational boycott of Tesco (I make an exception for their caramelised onion hummus).

So I've become a person who does half her weekly shop in Lidl and the other half in Dunnes, trying desperately to ignore the guilt of the resulting increase in my carbon footprint in doing so. It's exhausting.

Thankfully, there is one part of the average supermarket where the new rules just don't apply. Ironically, it's like a little sanctuary, a place of refuge, a guilt-free zone.

It's the wine aisle.

It's unsurprising that those clever supermarket people locate it at the furthest part of the shop, beyond fresh fruit and veg, beyond canned goods, beyond dairy.

So by the time I've made it there, I'm usually so stressed from all the choices I've had to make that I lorry the bottles of red into whatever space is left in my trolley.

With an exhilarating lack of guilt.

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